Washington coach Chris Petersen returns to familiar surroundings on Friday night, as the Huskies take on Boise State in one of the top matchups from Week 1. Petersen guided the Broncos to 92 wins from 2006-13 and left to take over for Steve Sarkisian prior to the 2014 season. Petersen’s debut wasn’t quite the year most expected (8-6), and the Huskies are in rebuild mode with only eight returning starters this fall.
On the other sideline, Bryan Harsin was tapped to replace Petersen, and the former Boise State quarterback and assistant is off to a great start after guiding the program to a 12-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl win last season. Despite breaking in a new quarterback and running back to replace Jay Ajayi, the Broncos are projected by most to be the top Group of 5 team in 2015.
Washington and Boise State have played three times, with the Huskies holding a 2-1 edge. The last meeting between these two programs came in 2012, and this will be the Huskies’ first trip to the blue turf for a regular season matchup.
Washington at Boise State
Kickoff: 10:15 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Boise State -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Who Starts for Washington at Quarterback?
Washington ended fall camp with three players locked into a tight battle for the starting job. True freshman Jake Browning, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and junior Jeff Lindquist battled all offseason for the No. 1 spot, and a clear frontrunner did not emerge prior to game week. Browning has the most talent, but Carta-Samuels and Lindquist bring more mobility to the offense, which could be a valuable asset behind a revamped offensive line. Regardless of which quarterback takes the first snap, they will be going against a tough Boise State defense and a raucous home crowd in Albertsons Stadium. This is not the ideal scenario for breaking in a new quarterback.
2. Ryan Finley’s First Start at QB/New RB for Boise State
Boise State usually has no trouble reloading at quarterback. Will that be the case once again in 2015? With Grant Hedrick departing, Finley is set to make his first start for the Broncos on Friday night. In limited action last season, Finley completed 12 of 27 passes for 161 yards and two scores. The Arizona native is surrounded by a strong supporting cast up front and has proven weapons in Thomas Sperbeck and Shane Williams-Rhodes to target in the passing attack. Similar to the quarterback spot, finding the next standout at running back usually doesn’t present many headaches for Boise State. While Jay Ajayi’s production (1,823 yards) will be missed, there are capable candidates in the mix. Jeremy McNichols is the frontrunner for carries, followed by Stanford transfer Kelsey Young and Devan Demas. Who will emerge as the clear No. 1? Or will this be a committee approach?
3. Washington’s Revamped Defense
An overlooked aspect of Washington’s offseason has to be the new faces stepping in on defense after the departures of standouts Shaq Thompson (LB), Danny Shelton (NT), Hau’oli Kikaha (DE/LB) and Andrew Hudson (end). That’s a lot of key pieces to replace in one offseason from a group that allowed 24.8 points per game in 2014. This unit returns four starters for 2015, including standout safety Budda Baker. But the front seven must be revamped, and the Huskies lost virtually their entire pass rush with the departures of Kikaha, Hudson and Shelton. While this unit must be revamped, there is talent in the mix – it’s just inexperienced. Will this unit quickly find the right mix? Or will the Huskies’ defense struggle on the road at Boise State?
Chris Petersen and his return to Boise State will get most of the attention in this game. While Petersen seems to be the right coach for Washington, it’s going to take some time to rebuild the depth chart after heavy offseason departures. And it certainly doesn’t help the Huskies’ upset bid to enter this matchup with uncertainty at quarterback. Washington has too many new faces to win this one, but this team will get better as the year progresses. Finley and McNichols turn in a solid performance in their debut, and the Broncos begin their run to another New Year’s Six bowl game with 14-point victory.